September 17, 2007, 3:08 am
Filed under: Travel Stories

Young Visitor, Moeun Vitou Khemarindh, poses for a photograph in front of Angkor Wat (Photo by editor)


by Sokhavuddh Moeun (Vina), Saint Paul, Minnesota

Angkor Wat is one of the thousands of beautiful castles in Cambodia. I recalled that the foreigners who went to visit Cambodia would say that they had not been in Cambodia yet if they did not go to see Angkor Wat or Angkor, as Khmer people call for short.

When I was young my parents took me to visit Angkor Wat twice. In 1996, my son and I went to see Angkor for my third time before I left for the U.S. Even though I was born over there and have visited Angkor three times, I still plan to go to visit Angkor again.

Likewise, even if we can make repeated visits to Angkor we can never feel tired of seeing it again. As impressive as the ancient temple itself is it’s history. King Suryavarman II built Angkor Wat between 1113 and 1150 during the Khmer Empire. It is the largest religious structure in the world. Angkor is located in Siam Reap province and is approximately 300 kilometers away from Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia.

If you travel by bus from Phnom Penh to Angkor, you can see the Cambodian countryside, paddy fields, people’s villages and the smiling children waving hands to the passing passengers. Furthermore, you can also see and cross a 12th century stone bridge on the way to Siam Reap. Traveling by boat is yet an even more remarkable experience. By water, Angkor and Phnom Penh is connected by the great lake Tonle Sap, which expands its size to 100,000 square kilometers during the rainy season. It is so big that you cannot even see the bank once you are in the middle of the lake. Probably it is a unique river lake that reverses its flow, from North to South in the dry season and from the South to North in the rainy season. During the six- hour journey on the water, you can see fishing villages in traditional style and different birds hunting for fish or trying to race with the boat.

You will arrive in the Siam Reap town at about noon if you take the boat or bus. You can either take a nap after lunch or get rid of fatigue by heading straight to Angkor. Along the six-kilometer road, about 100-year-old trees line up both side to give shade to the tourists and a resting place for cicadas singing from the top of the trees. When you are busy looking up at the trees or listening to the cicadas singing, you may be startled by a golden castle abruptly sprouting up from the middle of the forest. That is Angkor Wat. It may not be the best chance you can see the ancient temple in its natural splendor. The best time you should try to watch Angkor is during sunset when the gray stone temple is turned into gold by the evening light.

Angkor Wat is dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu; it is designed as a series of concentric rectangles, rising to a mountain in the center reaching 213 meters high. From a distance, Angkor appears to be a massive stone structure on one level with a long causeway leading to the center, but close- up it is a series of elevated towers with, covered galleries, chambers, porches and courtyards. The three galleries encircle the five central shrines, which have been successively used by Cambodian governments in the national flag.

According to “A Visitor’s Guide to Angkor”, estimates on how long it took to build Angkor vary widely, but the methods of construction, quantity of the materials, and the evolution of the decoration suggest that it took thirty to fifty years to build it. Angkor occupies a rectangular area of about 500 acres defined by a laterite wall. However, due to the frequent Siamese invasion and attacks centuries ago the last Angkorean king decided to leave Angkor in the 15th century. The foreigners had never known about it until a French explorer “discovered” the ruins surrounded by dense forest in 1861. Apart from Angkor, nearly 200 temples are scattered across Siam Reap province, from the northern end of the great Tonle Sap Lake, to the side of the Khmer Empire whose rule once extended to large areas in modern day Vietnam, Laos and Thailand.

After visiting Angkor during sunset, you must be hungry and may want to try some of the local dishes cooked with fresh water fish caught from the Tonle Sap Lake. It is your choice: you can taste the deep fried elephant fish with sour sauce or Samlor Koko (kind of mixed vegetable soup with different ingredients). But, the best-known local dish you can eat with rice is Prahok Chenchram, the smelly fish paste. Most foreigners choose not to touch it because of the strong smell, but Prahok Chenchram with rice is like their cheese with bread. However, some people may be allergic to fish, so they can also try sour chicken or beef soup with or without ingredients.

Cambodia has a tropical climate with two main seasons; the rainy season and the dry season lasting for six months each. If you want to try to take a shower in the rain with cheering children playing football in the mud, you might want to go to visit Angkor in the rainy season. Wherever you go in the country, let alone Angkor, you will be welcomed by smiling people who give much respect for Westerners though this unfortunate country had been ruined by more than 20 years of civil war, genocide and Vietnamese invasion. Even if you happen to visit Angkor during rainy season, you can see what Cambodian people really do there to make their living. On both side of the road from Phnom Penh, you can see cows pulling plows or farmers sticking rice saplings into the ground. In a few weeks’ time, everywhere you go has become green. If you can go to Cambodia during the dry season you will see the once green fields turned bright yellow. The rice is ready to harvest as the brief winter days are approaching.

Since most Cambodians practice Buddhism, you can rarely see a wedding ceremony during the rainy season when the local religion forbids lovers to tie the knot. When the winter blows weddings bloom. Wedding music can be heard from different corners of the country for days on end. Though the city folks would celebrate such a ceremony for one day or one morning, you can see villagers around Angkor Wat who normally hold their wedding ceremony for three days and three nights. Women in embroidered shirts and bright silk skirts line up with men for the wedding procession.

However, if you cannot wait long to enjoy the Khmer New Year in mid April you can still have the chance to watch the Water Festival in November. You can see the boat race at the intersection of the Mekong River and the Tonle Sapp Lake or, better still, watch the competition in the moat around Angkor. Then, you feel like you are living in the ancient period witnessing the fast fighting boats chasing one another in the moat.

After seeing Angkor and the boat race, it is probably the time you may want to come back home. However, as in my own experiences you may have not seen everything at Angkor during your first trip. So, you may want to go back to explore deeper into the mystery of Angkor Wat as well as the numerous other ancient temples in this Southeast Asian country.


2 Comments so far
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this is a very very nice blog. I look forward to your news update and opinions.

Comment by admin

You can find more information about Cambodia at

Comment by Byan

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